Devastating floods wreak havoc in Germany
“There were alerts going out… saying there’s some very serious rain and floods coming: be aware. It’s then for the national authorities to take that information and go with it”
Professor Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist who set up and now advises the European Flood Awareness System – an EU programme designed to provide early warnings of dangerous floods – told BBC alerts were sent to authorities in Europe over the weekend.
Prof Cloke said there were places where the system had “done what it’s designed to do”, with early warnings heeded.
But there were “also places where those warnings did not get through to the people and they did not know it was going to happen”.
Prof Cloke set up the warning system after deadly flooding in Europe in 2002, hoping to prevent such an event from happening again.
But she said the latest flooding had exposed “breaks in the chain”.
“We should not be seeing this number of deaths from floods in 2021. It’s just unacceptable. There’s something going wrong with the system.”
In the city of Hagen, Armin Laschet, the leading candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters authorities had been warned and had erected barriers “while the sun was still shining and nobody saw this coming”.
The environment ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate – one of Germany’s worst-affected states – says flood warnings are done for major rivers, but that information for tributaries and smaller rivers is not as detailed, so floods cannot always be prevented.
Prof Cloke said there were places where people did not know the floods were coming or did not know how to respond to protect themselves and their homes.
“They were putting themselves at risk, they were walking through the floodwater,” she explained.
After-effects of severe floods
Rescuers in Germany and neighbouring countries raced to find survivors from the region’s worst flooding in decades, as the death toll rose to more than 120 and hundreds remained missing following days of torrential rainfall.
German authorities used helicopters and drones to locate survivors who fled to roofs and high ground when their homes were engulfed by flash floods.
As waters subsided, dead bodies were recovered from flooded houses, implying that the final death toll is likely to be greater, several German officials said.
The German military joined in the effort to support amid a shortage of helicopters and other hardware. Hundreds of houses have collapsed or have been severely damaged in the western states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Electricity and water supplies, as well as telecommunications, were cut off in many affected areas and parts of key roads and railways were razed by the enormous volumes of floodwater, in what some residents described to German media as the worst destruction in their region since World War II.
More than 100 people had been killed in Germany alone, according to local authorities on Friday.
“If we look down the decades, there have always been storms and floods,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists before her flight back from Washington where she was on an official visit. “But the frequency is simply worrying and it requires us to act”
Officials said the German government and Parliament would work on a substantial financial package to alleviate the suffering of flooded regions.
Death and Casualties
According to local authorities, the death toll has risen to 106, pushing the total from flooding in Western Europe past 125.
While heavy rainfall battered parts of France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the worst-hit areas were western Germany where at least 63 victims have been reported in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and 43 in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In Belgium, the death toll has risen to 23.
There are fears more victims could be found as waters drain away across the devastated region. Nearly 900 army personnel have joined rescue workers in Germany as about 1,300 people were still reported missing.
However, authorities said, efforts to contact them could be hampered by disrupted roads and phone connections.